Teaching a course in root cause analysis last week, I spoke on the need to stop our quick assumptions. Everyone does it. All the time. We do it without thinking.
As soon as you meet someone you instantly think and evaluate the person standing opposite of you. I call this a Darwinism thinking. Theory of survival. Survival of the fittest. It can also be fight or flight thinking. You evaluate if a person is a threat to you. Friend or foe?
Next you evaluate how to approach this person. If they are friend, how do you get to know them better? Foe? How can you take them? Or do you simply avoid them?
Assumptions come from every angle. Every situation and with every statement made.
I set up my students by telling them I was replacing my flooring on the first floor of my home. I shared the material type I was using and the work involved. Then, I asked them, “Why am I replacing the flooring in my home?”
The students quickly shot out a myriad of answers. Needed to be done. Didn’t like carpet. Spoiled. (My favorite — meaning I was entitled and spoiled.) There were many answers. None were correct.
I stopped my students. “None of you were correct. Why didn’t you get the right answer?”
I let them sit for a bit before explaining because you chose to come to conclusions instead of asking questions. How can you find the actual cause of a problem without asking questions?
“Let’s start again,” I prompted. “Why am I putting down new flooring in my home?”
“Are you tired of carpet?” One student asked.
“Did you want new flooring?” Another added.
This went on for a couple of minutes. I stopped them. “What have you discovered? Why did I put down new flooring?” They were no closer to the answer than they were before. Why?
“Why don’t you know the reason, yet?” I looked at blank faces. “Because you are asking closed-ended questions. All of your questions are yes/no questions. Try asking an open-ended question.”
Closed-ended questions are those which can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no,” while open-ended questions are those which require more thought and more than a simple one-word answer.
The questions changed. However, they didn’t come as frequently. My students had to stop and think longer to get a good question.
“What kind of flooring did you choose to put in?”
“Great question,” I praised. “I’ve chosen a high grade wood-grain appearance vinyl planking.”
“That is good stuff. It will last forever.” I was a bit surprised that the student knew anything about what I was installing but this also opened more dialogue.
Soon, other questions were asked and the bottom cause was discovered. Two months prior, the water main in my home had burst. The flooring on the first floor needed to be replaced due to the damage.
What is the point? How often do we go through life making assumptions? How many of our assumptions are correct? And most importantly, what happens when we make wrong assumptions?
Wrong assumptions lead us down wrong paths and close doors of opportunities.